ST. LOUIS — J'den Cox didn't set out to win accolades. He just wanted to wrestle.
It's what he loves to do. And Saturday the Missouri 197-pounder turned his passion into his third national championship when he beat Minnesota's Brett Pfarr 8-2 at the Scottrade Center.
Cox now stands alone as the only three-time national champion in Missouri athletics history.
"It's nice to be recognized," Cox said of the honor. "But at the end of the day I wrestle because I love to wrestle. I do what I do because I want to do it and I love to do it."
This match was a little more clear-cut than his last national title, which he won 4-2 last season.
A first period takedown gave Cox a 2-0 lead. Another takedown gave him a 5-1 lead after the second period. He finished with the six-point victory.
"I'm glad he went out like that where he's firing shots and getting the win," head coach Brian Smith said. "I wanted it to be easy. They're never easy, but that one he completely dominated and I was proud of him."
As soon as the match ended Cox laid on his back with his hands on his face. He got up to congratulate his opponent and Minnesota's coaches before giving Smith a hug on the stage.
"I did it. I did it," Cox thought in the moment. "And I pushed through everything to get here. And that's the best feeling. So much builds up in you before that final match, so much emotion."
It's hard to argue against Cox being the best wrestler in program history — maybe in Missouri's athletic history. Not only does he own the most national championships, he is also a four-time All-American and won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics.
Cox finishes his career with a record of 136-5, dropping just one match in his last two seasons. Ben Askren has the only other back-to-back undefeated seasons in program history.
Yet Cox doesn't want to think of himself as the new face of Missouri wrestling. Instead, he just wanted to continue what Askren — a two-time national champion and four-time All-American at 174-pounds — started when Askren wrestled from 2004-07 at Missouri.
"Ben Askren's legacy is never going to be taken down. Ben Askren's legacy is what's drawn a lot of people to look at Mizzou," Cox said last Monday. "Beforehand when you think of it there wasn't much going on at Mizzou, there was not a national champion, let alone a Hodge winner so he brought attention to Mizzou.
"That will never fade away. I think that the biggest thing if anything I'll be able to uphold his legacy."
Askren and Cox did take the mat against each other when Cox was a freshman. Cox winded his decade-older counterpart, and both claimed to have won the 20-minute long match.
But Askren knew right then how good Cox would be.
"At that point I let Ben get his oxygen back in his body and I said, 'Can he win it?'" Smith asked Askren, "'and he said, 'He's going to win it, he can win it right now.'"
Cox did win it that year, and again in his junior and senior years to give him his school record-setting three national titles. Yet the humble-natured Cox isn't getting caught up with that accomplishment.
"I think that's more because I have a lot of respect of the people that came before me and that paved the way for me to be able to do what I do day in, day out," Cox said. "And I've accomplished great feats."
As for those great feats, he'd like to see a Missouri athlete climb to even higher heights.
"I hope to become a stepping stone for someone else to come through and break that. That's all this is," Cox said. "I want someone to come through and do unimaginable things and things which I could only dream of or I couldn't even dream of, and I want to watch that."
Lavion Mayes at 149 and Joey Lavallee at 157 also competed in title matches Saturday for Missouri.
Mayes got an early takedown against Penn State's Zain Retherford, but Retherford quickly took the lead. Multiple four-point near falls gave Retherford the 18-2 technical fall win for his second consecutive national title. The redshirt senior Mayes still finishes as one of only five three-time All-Americans for Missouri.
Mayes, however, kept things in perspective.
"I'm graduating in two months with an Electrical Engineering degree," Mayes said. " I think graduating college with an EE degree is a lot better than winning a national title."
Lavallee dropped a 14-6 major decision to Penn State's Jason Nolf. The redshirt junior was only able to score by escape in the loss.
Still, Lavallee knows how far he came this past season. Especially during his redshirt year last season when Smith almost dismissed him from the program when his redshirt year "wasn't going so well."
"He told me 'get a haircut and come in with 10 things you're going to improve,'" Lavallee said.
Lavallee came back with 10 things he would improve, plus 10 more things he could do to help the team as a whole. Now, he's looking to use his experience to be a team leader as a senior next season.
Jaydin Eierman and Daniel Lewis also wrestled Saturday for Missouri. Eierman went 1-1 to finish fifth at 141. Lewis finished sixth at 165 after going 0-2 on Saturday.
"Just a dream come true. I've always dreamed of All-American, it feels great," Eierman, who lept into Smith's arms after winning All-American, said. "Next year I'm going to be a different animal."
Notes: Missouri finished in fifth place in the team standings with 86.5 points. Penn State won the team national championship for the second consecutive season.